U.S. Compares Poorly to Europe on Agricultural Safety Policies

In Mother Jones, Tom Philpott flags seven food-related substances or procedures that are banned in Europe but allowed in the United States.

Here are the first three, and it doesn’t really look any brighter after that:

 1. Atrazine Why it’s a problem: A “potent endocrine disruptor,” Syngenta’s popular corn herbicide has been linked to a range of reproductive problems at extremely low doses in both amphibians and humans, and it commonly leaches out of farm fields and into people’s drinking water.

What Europe did: Banned it in 2003.

US status: EPA: “Atrazine will begin registration review, EPA’s periodic reevaluation program for existing pesticides, in mid-2013.”

2. Arsenic in chicken, turkey, and pig feed Why it’s a problem: Arsenic is beloved of industrial-scale livestock producers because it makes animals grow faster and turns their meat a rosy pink. It enters feed in organic form, which isn’t harmful to humans. Trouble is, in animals guts, it quickly goes inorganic, and thus becomes poisonous. Several studies, including one by the FDA, have found heightened levels of inorganic arsenic in supermarket chicken, and it also ends up in manure, where it can move into tap water. Fertilizing rice fields with arsenic-laced manure may be partially responsible for heightened arsenic levels in US rice.

What Europe did: According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, arsenic-based compounds “were never approved as safe for animal feed in the European Union, Japan, and many other countries.”

US status: The drug giant Pfizer “voluntarily” stopped marketing the arsenical feed additive Roxarsone back in 2011. But there are still several arsenicals on the market. On May 1, a coalition of enviro groups including the Center for Food Safety, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit demanding that the FDA ban them from feed.

3. “Poultry litter” in cow feed

Why it’s a problem: You know how arsenic goes inorganic—and thus poisonous—in chickens’ guts? Consider that their arsenic-laced manure is then commonly used as a feed for cows. According to Consumers Union, the stuff “consists primarily of manure, feathers, spilled feed, and bedding material that accumulate on the floors of the buildings that house chickens and turkeys.” The “spilled feed” part is of special concern, because chickens are often fed “meat and bone meal from dead cattle,” CU reported, and that stuff can spill into the litter and be fed back to cows, raising mad cow disease concerns.

What Europe did: Banned all forms of animal protein, including chicken litter, in cow feed in 2001.

US status: The practice remains unrestricted. US cattle consume about 2 billion pounds of it annually, Consumers Union’s Michael Hansen told me last year.